Haunting images of bodies washing onto Europe’s shore exposes the lengths to which refugees go to flee war in Syria.
Many attempting a perilous sea crossing trust their lives to ruthless and predatory people traffickers.
But it is a mistake to believe that setting foot in Europe means the end of their ordeal – they are vulnerable to being sold into modern slavery, including physical labour and sexual exploitation.
According to the latest Home Office statistics we have 13,000 modern slaves here in the UK. Unfortunately, the Modern Slavery Act, recently introduced to combat this shocking situation, is a step forward but much more could be done.
The law was revised to mean a victim’s consent was no defence in cases of slavery. But legislation still requires proof force or compulsion was used against those held in slavery or servitude which can be extremely difficult to demonstrate in cases involving children.
These young victims are controlled simply due to their vulnerability rather than by physical force or compulsion - for example through grooming for sexual exploitation or trafficked by a family to become a domestic servant. Such victims may have no real understanding that what is happening to them is wrong.
It is no wonder, with such legal barriers in place, that so few child exploitation cases are ever prosecuted.
Until the law is tightened up, those same criminals who send refugees to their death in the Mediterranean will be free to operate with impunity here in the UK.
Head of human rights, Slater and Gordon